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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bob Lutz: Big 12, time to think big — and wide

BY BOB LUTZ
The Wichita Eagle

Since geography apparently has been thrown out with the bath water when it comes to conference realignment, let's examine what the Big 12 should be doing as it fights for its life.

First, throw Missouri out. Don't wait for Missouri to leave, throw it out. Show it the door, open the door, then kick the Tigers through the door. Mizzou is an anchor around the Big 12's neck.

The conference has been kowtowing to Missouri long enough. It's time for Missouri to go to wherever it is Missouri thinks it's going and for the Big 12 to once and for all do whatever it takes to remain viable.

Adding TCU is a good first step. The Horned Frogs are a proven football commodity. And if we have learned anything in the past 18 months, it's that only football matters to these power conferences. Sorry, basketball guys, I wish it were different.

TCU ups the ante following Texas A&M's departure to the SEC. Over the past dozen years, there is no doubt which program has been the strongest. The Big 12 has shown faith that the Horned Frogs can continue being a college football mainstay. It's faith well spent.

Now, should Missouri leave — and please, Missouri, just leave — there will be another hole to fill to maintain a 10-school conference.

If Chuck Neinas, the Big 12's interim commissioner, isn't at the doorstep of Boise State, pleading with the Broncos in all of their blue-turf glory to come aboard, then he's missing the boat.

Boise State — remember, it's all about football and we're not worried about geography — would be a major get for the Big 12.

Do you know that in its 61-year history of playing college football, Boise State has never been bad? Only one coach in its history has a losing record (Houston Nutt, 5-6). Chris Peterson, the Bulldogs' current coach, is 66-5. The coach preceding him, Dan Hawkins, was 53-11. Since 1960, Boise State is 370-135-2.

You just know the Broncos would drop the Mountain West in a heartbeat to join. There are reports that the Big East, another conference struggling to remain viable, has interest in Boise State.

Beat the Big East to the punch, Commissioner Neinas. GO GET BOISE!

Now you're at 10 teams, 11 if those sniffling whiners from Missouri are allowed to stay.

Now what?

An 11-team conference makes no sense. And while 10 is sufficient, you might as well get back to 12 if for no other reason than for the name of your conference make sense.

So....

West Virginia.

The Mountaineers are in the crumbling Big East and would love more stability. They might love the rock-solid stability of the Big Ten or the ACC more, but the additions of TCU and perhaps Boise State would convince West Virginia that the Big 12 is going to remain a player.

Of course, that all really depends on Texas and to a slightly lesser degree, Oklahoma. But nary a peep of discontent has been heard from anyone at those universities in a while now. Perhaps — cross your fingers and knock on wood — the Longhorns and Sooners really are committed to making the Big 12 work.

West Virginia would be way out there by its lonesome, without a geographical soul mate. Maybe some of that revenue from the Longhorn Network could go toward helping the Mountaineers' travel budget.

That's just a joke, Texas. I would never seriously suggest you share revenue from the Longhorn Network. We all know that's out of the question.

OK, so the Big 12 has lost Texas A&M and Missouri (hypothetically) and added TCU, Boise State and West Virginia. That's 11 schools. We can't stop now.

Who best fits as a 12th member?

Houston? SMU? No and no. The Big 12 is already Texas heavy and neither program has proven staying power. Houston is 6-0 this season but could be 0-6 in 2012. SMU is making progress under June Jones, but the Big 12 doesn't need to add to its Texas footprint.

BYU is the logical 12th school unless Neinas works a miracle and convinces Notre Dame to join. The Cougars are sitting out right now, choosing to play as an independent in football while belonging to the West Coast Conference in other sports.

BYU has a lucrative television agreement with ESPN through 2018 and brings a built-in national audience. Plus, it's a strong and proven football school that would add tremendous cache to the Big 12's pedigree.

Back to 12 schools, the Big 12 would again be split into divisions:

South: Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU and Texas Tech.

North: Boise State, BYU, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and West Virginia.

That is a football conference that can stand up to any other. And it has the extra element of having a couple of proven BCS party crashers.

It would get people talking. It would generate a landslide of excitement. It would cause television executives to fall all over themselves trying to get even more Big 12 action on their airwaves.

Could it happen? Well, who really knows what can happen in college football's new frontier. It's worth a shot, isn't it?

Check sports columnist Bob Lutz's blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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